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Five Cliches to Avoid in Writing Song Lyrics

Five Cliches to Avoid in Writing Song Lyrics

It doesn't take long for me to be put off a song once I hear a lyric which is both extremely familiar and utterly unoriginal. No matter how good the music is or how impressive the vocal performance might be, if the lyrics are sub-standard and full of clichés, the song cannot be regarded as anything more than average.

That said, I have spoken to many people who don't listen to the lyrics of a song and don't care what is being said as long as they like the melody or another aspect of the song. They simply let the words wash over them.

I find this hard to understand, since the story of the song plays a large part in my listening experience. It is at least 25% of the whole. Any discerning songwriter who wants to gain critical respect needs to focus on writing an honest and interesting lyric.

Below I have listed five clichés to avoid, the ones that seem to appear time and time again throughout songs over many generations. Of course, they were once original, and the writers should be commended rather than ridiculed. However those who just steal and reuse without any thought to their craft, should be laughed at.

1 The rhyming of fire and desire. I first heard this beauty in U2's song Desire. At the time it sounded like a good lyric, being my first experience of it. But in fact there were many many previous examples already out there and many more to come. Notable musical giants such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Michael Jackson and many others have all used it in one form or another. Most recently, Scissor Sisters went for the jugular multiple fire/desire rhyme chorus in their song Fire With Fire:

You said, "Fight fire with fire
Fire with fire
Fire with fire
Through desire, desire -sire, desire
Through your desire."

2. I don't know where I'm going but I know where I've been. Not only is this phrase completely overused, but it is often excruciating to hear. The line is often split in two, making the predictability of the second part painful to the ear. It is also such an obvious line as naturally everyone knows about their past and where they have been, but not many people can have exact knowledge of their future.

3. The break of dawn/day. I have heard this phrase across a range of genres and it's a phase I quite like, but once you hear it countless occasions, it loses its appeal rather quickly.

4. Fly/sky/high. This simple rhyme is very easy to come up with; in fact once you have a line containing the word 'fly', the first rhyming words you might think of would be sky or high. Yet very successful artists get away with it and their million selling songs don’t seem to suffer. R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly is a prime example and full of fly/sky combinations as well as equally nauseous lines like 'If I can see it, then I can do it' and 'If I just believe it, there's nothing to it'.

5 Down on my knees and begging you please. Again, over-used and often sung like it is an original line born from many hours of hard work.

There you have five examples of lyrical clichés to avoid.

For some inspiration, here's a great line from the Simon & Garfunkel song Homeward Bound: 'Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me'.

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